Pretty petite Mama Gideon swiftly bared three months old baby Matthew’s tiny black bottom to the air. A fresh piece of Kanga cloth was applied, followed by an efficient wrapping with a scrap of black plastic garbage bag to prevent leaking. I reached for the baby while Mama Gideon moved on to stoke her three stone traditional out door fire.
She had been heating a big sufria (metal bowl) and now handfuls of rice were added to the hot water. Next an endless line of tiny shirts, one-piece suits, and small ragged pants all hand washed and squeezed almost dry were strung along the line. Mama Gideon had climbed the dusty hill overlooking “baby house” number two. The bright red and green plastic tubs full of washing were balanced on her head and in her arms. Wee Matthew wound his perfect pink nailed teeny black hand around my finger. He gazed up at my strange white face with his enormous black curly lashed eyes. I am sure he was trying to decide if it would be necessary to wail loudly to ensure his future safety. Instead the fingers uncurled and a little thumb found its way to comfort of his perfect small mouth. Both Matthew’s parents have died of HIV/Aids. I wondered what Don would think if I could somehow manage to slip him into my suitcase!
Kulwa and Doto, the names given to all twins in Tanzania, Shamira bare bottomed in a little green shirt, Zauda in a red Canucks suit with only a few snaps missing, Mussa (in the grey & red striped sweater) known as the “Godfather” because he has never been seen to smile, yet seemed to be in silent control of his compatriots, Baraka with the runny nose and Eleeza sitting so still, possibly coping with epilepsy all squeezed together onto the bamboo mat. Braison 12, and Johari’s brother Mark 13, orphans themselves, played so happily with the little children. Mama Gideon came with her white plastic pail to offer each one a piece of her homemade bread. All hands were extended.
Loveness, nine months, and Princess, six months, and Calvin, also nine months, were sleeping. This house, one of six in the Children’s Village is situated around the top of a lush green valley. Eleven children are cared for in this house. Down below a natural stream feeds a huge vegetable garden (shamba) helping to supply chakula (food) for the 70 orphans. Everyone is quietly pleased that our number has gone down from 84 children. More HIV positive mothers are being kept alive! The CD4 machine, anti- retroviral medication and the Care and Treatment Clinic built with funds from responsive compassionate donors are helping.
However Geoff Knight, with Kulwa and Doto perched on his knee, softly informs me that new empirical research in Africa asserts “there is nothing worse than having your mother die while still a child is under five years old”. Interestingly there is a negligible effect if your father passes.
Mama Gideon returns to the fire to prepare spiced beans to go with the rice. In her colorful headscarf and bright kanga skirt she moves constantly from chore to chore. Anne and I met with the “committee kuu”(big committee of heads!) to learn of staff concerns and hopes yesterday. Mama Gideon earns $1200 a year. If she worked as a tea picker for Unilever her pay would be higher and her hours would be reduced. YET she stays because of “love”.
Speaking to the “committee kuu” I tried to explain the difference between having a commodity to sell for profit and having to hope patiently for the goodwill and concern of people far, far away. Enough profit enables salary increases.The NGO sadly admits to paying as “little as we can” not what the endearing hearts and minds of Tanzanians employed here are worth. What would our dear friend and social democrat Stephen Lewis think of that explanation??? The situation causes wayowayo (worry) for us all.
The waking cries of Loveness send Mama Gideon scurrying inside. Another small bottom needs attending to and then it is nourishing bottle time for the infants. The indomitable resilient spirit rises. The people are truly wonderful, valiantly trying to shoulder whatever adversity confronts them.